Split-ticket voting occurs when a voter casts his or her ballot for members of different political parties for different offices. It contrasts with straight-ticket voting, in which a citizen votes for the candidates of the same political party for all offices on the ballot in a particular election year.
In virtually all elections from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the 1960s, Mississippi, like most of the South, was an entirely one-party state: the Democrats held nearly every elected office and won the state in almost all presidential elections. Political conflicts were settled in the Democratic primary. Mississippi voted for Strom Thurmond’s segregationist States’ Rights Party in 1948 and an unpledged slate of electors in 1960 but did not support a Republican candidate for president until 1964, when Barry Goldwater, an opponent of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, won the state over Pres. Lyndon Johnson, taking 87 percent of the vote. Mississippi did not elect a Republican US representative until 1964, and Thad Cochran became the first Republican US senator since Reconstruction when he won a three-way race to succeed retiring Democrat James O. Eastland in 1978. In 1991 Kirk Fordice defeated incumbent Ray Mabus to become the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Split-ticket voting could not become a significant phenomenon in Mississippi until Republicans began to compete seriously in elections.
In recent decades the GOP has become the dominant party in Mississippi, though split-ticket voting remained significant, at least until the second decade of the twenty-first century. After the 2007 elections Republicans held all but one statewide elected executive office, yet the Democratic Party maintained majorities in both houses of the state legislature, and most county and local officials were Democrats. Thus, some Mississippians were engaging in split-ticket voting. Those who did so tended to chose Republicans for higher-level offices and Democrats for lower-level offices. However, Republicans have steadily gained strength down the ballot, and in 2011 the GOP took control of the State House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction. The shift toward the Republican Party continued through the 2015 elections.
Split-ticket voting is largely a racial phenomenon in Mississippi. In the state with the most racially polarized electorate in the United States, the vast majority of African American voters have voted Democrat for nearly all offices from president to local officials. When split-ticket voting occurs, it generally involves conservative white voters who support conservative white Democratic candidates for state and especially local positions.
For example, Gene Taylor, a Democrat from southern Mississippi, won a seat in Congress in a 1989 special election and won reelection every two years thereafter, usually by landslide margins of victory, despite the fact that his district was the most Republican congressional district in the state in presidential elections. Taylor compiled a conservative voting record on military, foreign policy, and cultural issues and was one of the few House Democrats to support the impeachment of Pres. Bill Clinton. Taylor’s conservative constituents rewarded him for his positions. In 2004 Pres. George W. Bush won the district with 68 percent of the vote in his reelection campaign, while Taylor won reelection with 64 percent. However, Republican Steven Palazzo defeated Taylor in 2011, illustrating the decline in split-ticket voting.
In recent decades split-ticket voting in Mississippi has largely been a case of some conservative white voters’ willingness to cast a ballot for conservative white Democratic candidates.
- Ballotpedia: The Encyclopedia of American Politics website, https://ballotpedia.org/Main_Page
- Donald W. Beachler, Politics and Policy (December 2001)
- V. O. Key, Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949)
- Alexander P. Lamis, Southern Politics in the 1990s (1999)
- Alexander P. Lamis, The Two-Party South (2nd ed., 1990)